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Sacrifice (2011)

by on 2013/03/20

Sacrifice (2011)

“This is now officially a mess, and I will be cleaning it up.”

* *

It’s ironic I should have been searching so hard for this terrible disappointment. I heard about the production and soon after mistakenly bought the video Lies and Illusions, a similar vehicle featuring the same two leads, Cuba Gooding Jr and Christian Slater. Unfortunately – or not – it wasn’t the Canadian content I’d hoped for. To start, it wasn’t shot anywhere near Ottawa.

Mind you, relatively few movies or TV shows are shot in our capital. It’s a city I currently reside in, but will probably never consider home. Call it a morbid fascination: I’m curious as to why most productions avoid it, and whether it’s possible to create anything worthwhile here with consistency.

Some have done it against all the odds. Jesus Christ Vampire Hunter exploited it for camp and humour. Improbably, Michael, Tuesdays and Thursdays lent it wit and sophistication. Most everything else has been incidental and/or crap, including today’s misfire, Sacrifice.

Ottawa actually stands in for Toronto here — a decision that will doubtless spur the locals’ wrath — and parts are set in L.A. It’s a story driven by traffickers moving heroin, baked into religious statues, from the evil haven of Canada to the victimized faithful down south. At least that’s what the numerous pages of expository text suggest. If nothing else, you’ve got to give it credit for stubbornly ostracizing every possible demographic.

Content-wise, there are so many characters here . . . frankly more than I care to describe. In short, one’s a grieving cop who won’t play by the rules, and another’s a former soldier turned servant of god, pitted against a web of assorted gangsters. Everyone’s either a child- or parent-figure to someone else. And they all seem connected in enough different ways that it stretches credulity to the breaking point.

Now, putting aside the question of whether or not they’re slumming, Gooding (Jerry Maguire) and Slater (True Romance) are not too shabby in their respective roles as struggling cop and priest, but they don’t have much to work with, and Slater is not really in it very much.

In nearly every other respect, Sacrifice is one miss after another. The only exception which comes to mind: I think the music’s pretty good, a thrumming rhythmic underscore of bass lines and synthetics.

From the outset, though, it doesn’t look good, with several screens of factoids, reappearing again near the end. Voice-overs clobber us with varied perspectives, inconsistently used. The visuals are pedestrian in virtually every regard: the locations, cinematography, and editing, forgettably unremarkable. It’s most original trick is to tint the flashbacks. Killings are red. Like blood!

“Unremarkable” is probably not be a word the filmmakers are hoping to hear, so packed with clumsy provocation is this piece. Its generic frame is decorated with every sort of extreme, and becomes a whole new kind of generic slurry. Superfluous shots insert “grit” without advancing the narrative. A cop on the edge! Drunkenness! Narcotics! Profanity . . . and in a church no less! A racist epithet! Sex! Swearing! Women kissing each other! And a bad guy pulling an imaginary trigger in public.

Oh, give us a break.

It’s so transparent, so clumsy, it comes off as pathetic, desperation masquerading as street cred. Even the motions are half-hearted, with nothing explicit enough to be the reason we watch in itself. If you’re looking for violence or nudity, you’ll be sorely out of luck. And the craft itself is not completely incompetent. As a result, it fails to rate as either a guilty pleasure or any kind of comedy, intended or otherwise.

At least the incessant swearing covers a weak script and struggling actors.

No wait. It doesn’t . . . at all.

In a morass of confusion and coincidence, the final nail in the coffin involves a stunning deus ex machina, in which Gooding’s cop visits an out-of-nowhere psychic acquaintance, who feeds him all the names and leads he needs to tie up the plot. I’ll try to convince myself it’s all a figment of his subconscious, a twisted psyche piecing the clues together, but I don’t believe the movie is functioning at that depth.

When the final lines of dialogue suggest the direction for a sequel, it was all I could do not to snort and make nasty comments aloud to myself. Instead I vaguely explored the following question: Can one be disappointed by something they expected so little from? In this case, absolutely yes. I went in expecting utter dreck, then found specks of possible promise, none of which amounted to diddly-squat.

So, hey Canadian filmmakers, here’s the Sacrifice cautionary challenge: how about worrying less about stuffing your efforts with “edgy” crap, and making them slightly more modest-yet-solid instead?

* *

Rated 18A

100 mins

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